The quest to complete the final 354.2 mile chunk of Appalachian Trail by my unique set of rules (all by day hikes) begins today,
Saturday, September 15, 2012:
Here's my personal journal account of a rather nostalgic return to a piece of trail I last hiked on Novermber 7, 2011:
I was at the trail parking lot (on US 11 at the Troutville town line) around 7:40 and was on the trail at 8:10 for the short, mostly level leg south to my ‘Mile Zero’ point, where I had officially started this quest on January 1st. Here's what it looked like today:
It took me only 50 minutes to make that 2.4 miles, and 45 minutes to get back to my van. I then reloaded with supplies and answered a ‘call of nature’ in the woods before hitting the trail northbound at 10AM sharp. All this trail I had last hiked ten months ago, on November 7, 2011, but I was amazed at how much detail I remembered.
I remembered the steady climb up to Fullhardt Knob Shelter – 1300 feet of elevation gain from the parking lot – as being a tough climb. But after hiking Maine, this gradual switch-back trail, all on incredibly easy footing, wide and level graded trail with gradual slopes, felt so easy that I could not even walk fast enough to get my breathing and heart rate up to the level I was used to for climbing. That essentially means that this ascent didn’t even feel like an ascent at all, but just a slightly inclined level walk!
From the shelter I made the gradual descent on the Fullhardt Knob Fire Road (there used to be a fire tower where the shelter is), then the very gradual ascent back up to about 2500 feet on the ridge before dropping down to Salt Pond Road where I had parked on November 7th. I remembered quite a bit of detail about the trail all through this section and the next bit, which involved a fairly steep set of switchbacks down to the Curry Creek Trail. But from there I did not remember much detail and did not remember where I turned around in that direction.
My records show that I visited the next shelter, Wilson Creek Shelter, on November 4th, and I remember coming down to it from Blackhorse Gap, and I did correctly recall the setting for this shelter. I extended my day today, 25 minutes beyond my planned turn-around time in order to reach that shelter.
Then the long hike back, over the several small ups and downs to Curry Creek Trail went fast, though my feet and legs were beginning to feel the strain of the long day. Still, every inch of trail was a total delight compared to trail in Maine – it’s mostly small gravel or dirt for footing, and has been graded so that there is a level path that is fairly wide, even on steep side-hill areas.
The 700 foot climb up from Curry Creek to Salt Pond Road is quite a bit steeper than the climb from Troutville to Fullhardt Knob Shelter, but I was still moving forward at nearly the same pace that I had descended it, and it felt good to be able to do such a steady climb on such easy trail – it felt like walking a tread mill set on an incline.
I got back to the US 11 trailhead parking lot at 6:45PM, so it was nearly an 11 hour day. I had covered 11.5 miles of trail, although based on the trip odometer on my GPS, it had been 25 miles of walking including the short side trips to the shelters and to the parking lot.
Noting the contrasts from my recent days in Maine made today an especially interesting day although there wasn't a lot of scenery to take in - mostly walking in the woods. This is my home climate-zone, and the familiar early fall sound of crickets (not present in Maine) took the place of the noisy trill of the Red Squirrel. The air felt warm and humid even though it wasn't a hot day - days like that are probably over in Maine for this season. It felt like I as back home, and that felt good.
Here's the track of today's walk, and a link to many more photos:
AT Day 230 - Fullhart Knob at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Virginia